Former Secretary of State attributes success to college

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In her new book, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gives a candid view of her childhood and college years, especially how they influenced her tenure as the country’s top diplomat.

Rice stopped by BookPeople on Thursday, greeting about 350 people, to promote her new book “Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family.”

In her discussion with KXAN’s Leslie Rhode, Rice shared details of her family, childhood and how she became the person she is today, all topics addressed in her book. Rice said her parents’ value of education eventually determined her success in the Bush administration.

“It really started with my grandfather,” Rice said. “He really believed, along with my parents, in the transforming power of an education — not only for me, but for everyone. They passed this belief on to me.”
Rice’s memoir not only addresses her education and rise to success but also the challenges she overcame in her life, including racism and her parents’ deaths.

As a child in Birmingham, Ala., Rice said 1968 was the year of her political awakening and represented a turning point in her life, recalling the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy.

“So much happened in that year,” she said. “At 13, I felt the country was falling apart. I remember being quite frightened of what was going on in the world.”

Rice, who now teaches at Stanford University, said the central theme of her book is the importance of receiving an education and finding a life passion.

“Until my sophomore year of college, I wanted to be a pianist,” Rice said. “Junior year I wandered into a course on international politics, and then I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a Soviet specialist. It must have been a divine intervention. I always tell my students to look for their passions, but sometimes they find you.”

Students should seek mentors because a push in the right direction is almost always necessary to reach their goals in life, she said.

“Education is so transforming, it’s the opportunity to do something you’re passionate at and do it well,” Rice said. “My life was a journey and a process. You’ll be more fulfilled by overcoming things you find difficult than doing what is easy.”

Rice represents a political scientist, not a politician, said Jason Rocen, an Austin resident who purchased one of the 375 books sold at the event.

“I come from Alabama as well, and because of this, she’s kind of iconic,” he said. “I’m a fan of political scientists who enact changes directly for the public, instead of trying to appease them. When it comes down to it, the book is really about her development and representing the importance of education in today’s society.”